The primaries and caucuses to select the Republican presidential nominee are officially scheduled to end on June 7. That's a big day when five states vote -- California, New Jersey, South Dakota, Montana and New Mexico.
But it's quite possible that no candidate will have amassed enough pledged delegates to insure a majority at the convention. The magic number needed is 1,237. Donald Trump is the clear frontrunner, but he still needs to win more than 50 percent of the remaining delegates to reach that goal.
Most media commentary assumes that if Trump is held below the 1,237 mark, there will be a contested convention in Cleveland. That's not necessarily the case.
After June 7, we will see what I call the Primary of the Unbound Delegates.
This primary will be to win the hearts and votes of several hundred delegates who have yet to pledge to any candidates. Unbound delegates at the Republican convention are quite different from the Super Delegates found among Democrats. They are delegates selected in a primary or caucus without being pledged to any candidate.
For example, on Friday, April 1, North Dakota will hold a caucus to elect 28 delegates. But they will all be selected to serve as free agents representing North Dakota Republicans rather than any particular candidate. An even bigger pool of unbound delegates will be found in Pennsylvania. Fifty-four of the state's 71 delegates will be elected without any presidential preference.
All told, there will be 166 delegates in this category. But there will almost certainly be more. The same numbers are pledged to support Marco Rubio and there are a handful of others pledged to support people like Jeb Bush or Ben Carson. These will all end up in the unbound category.
Regardless of the precise number, there will be more votes available in the Primary of the Unbound Delegates than in any single state primary. And the campaigns of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz will be campaigning to win their support one delegate at a time. Some of these unbound candidates will announce their intentions before the convention while some may keep it to themselves. But we will hear constantly updated delegate totals throughout this process.
For any of this to matter requires one big assumption-Ted Cruz will have to find a way to beat Donald Trump in the remaining states. Cruz currently trails Trump by 274 delegates. If he can win just over half of the nearly 1,000 remaining delegates, he will pull to within 200 delegates of Trump's total heading into the Primary of the Unbound Delegates.
In that scenario, Cruz could enter the convention in first place by winning about two-thirds of the unpledged delegates. Given the nature of those delegates, that's not an unreasonable goal. Some come from states where Cruz did well. Others were initially pledged to candidates who prefer Cruz over Trump. It's even possible that the unbound delegates could deliver a first ballot victory to the Texas Senator.
That's what the numbers tell us, but the voters will decide if it's what they want. The only way that Ted Cruz can win the nomination is to defeat Donald Trump in the remaining primaries. If he can't do that, the unbound delegates are unlikely to save him.
To find out more about Scott Rasmussen and to read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.